Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Brother Joscephus’ Live Album Reaches for the Rafters

Whatever you think of Brother Joscephus and his band the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra, you can’t argue with their work ethic: they always give 200% live. Their latest album, recorded live at the Brooklyn Bowl last year with a total of 21 players, is both an accurate representation of their ecstatic live show, and a tremendously good idea. It’s something more bands should do: live albums make great merchandise. These guys probably sell a ton of them at shows, not only because a lot of the crowd is drunk: this massive New Orleans-style soul/funk band is great fun. They’re strictly oldschool – a phat beat for these guys means a hit on the kick drum, not something that comes out of a laptop. The horn section rises and falls, the organ swells, the bass is fat and funky and Brother Joscephus’ gravelly voice and sly stage presence is hard to resist. What’s most obvious here is that their show is designed first and foremost to be a dance party – these songs are long, several of them going on for almost ten minutes at a clip.

After a long, James Brown-style intro, they launch into a lickety-split, shuffling version of the gospel standard A Child Shall Lead. The band’s signature song Revolution of Love gets a swaying 1970s style southern soul treatment, with a hint of Steely Dan, a big choir of backing vocals and a nimbly scrambling, jazzy guitar solo. They get funky on Making Love to Your Woman, lit up by the Right Reverend Dean Dawg’s swirling soul organ solo and a big crescendo with Morgan “Holy Cassanova” Price’s baritone sax. Whiskeydick Blues is a surprisingly PG-rated, coy look at a common late-night illness; this particular case has an unexpectedly happy ending. And their version of When the Saints Go Marching In is surprisingly fresh: they give it a brief, shuffling vintage soul intro before kicking it off with a soaring second-line vibe.

The best song on the album is Shine On, an original that clocks in at practically ten minutes. It’s got the best guitar solo released on any album this year. What makes it so good is that while it’s a long one, guitarist Joey “G-Note” Hundertmark doesn’t actually play a lot of notes – the way he builds tension, careening away from the center and back again, is magnetic, and genuinely breathtaking. Likewise, they kick off the ballad I Still Love You with a simple, catchy hook and build it until it reaches epic proportions – and then take it out with a trick ending. They wind up the album with the unstoppable optimism of Mighty Mighty Chain of Love (Pass It On).

Not everything here is as good as all this. Their brave attempt to make real soul music out of a campy top 40 hit by Queen falls flat: garbage in, garbage out. Their Creedence cover isn’t awful but it’s also pretty pointless – why a band whose originals are so strong would look elsewhere for material is a mystery that this album doesn’t answer. And there are some Branson moments that should have been left on the cutting room floor – the album’s practically 75 minutes could easily have been cut back to a solid hour. Still, how many bands can you name who can play a solid hour of music this good? Not many. The band is currently on East Coast tour; watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Another Random Awesome Night at Freddy’s

It wouldn’t be fair to let the week go by without mentioning how much fun the quadruple bill – yup, four bands – at Freddy’s was on Saturday night. The music started at around 8 and ended some time in the wee hours – it was that kind of night, with tunes to match. The Roulette Sisters were first. These four badass players – resonator guitarist Mamie Minch, electric guitarist Meg Reichardt, washboard player Megan Burleyson and violist Karen Waltuch – have a great new album out (recently reviewed here) and as usual, had come to conquer. Their unusually early hour onstage was a warmup of sorts for a gig later at some costume ball (Meg already had her lion tamer costume ready to go). As usual, the set was a trip to a speakeasy of the mind circa 1930. Meg sang the cheery swing tune I’ll Take the South and the Cowboy Boogie, a funny mashup of oldtime blues and hillbilly music. When she got to the line “that cat was raised on local weed,” the whole band couldn’t help smiling. Megan sang the charming flapper anthem Coney Island Washboard and a nonchalantly innuendo-packed version of Bessie Smith’s Sugar in My Bowl. The whole crew sang an Al Duvall song which attempts to answer the question that if you’re shagging in the woods and nobody sees it, did you really get laid? Other songs included Your Biscuits Are Tall Enough for Me as well as a thinly veiled ode to masturbation and a lament told from the point of view of a woman whose man’s performance has been wiped out by Jamaica ginger (a deadly patent medicine that was sort of the 1920s equivalent of Prozac).

The Larch were next. The back room at the new Freddy’s isn’t as conducive to electric sounds as the old downstairs room was, but they managed. Lots of new songs in their set, which makes sense since they’ve got a new album coming out this year. With Liza Garelik Roure’s swooping, fluid organ lines anchoring her husband Ian’s razorwire guitar solos, they sounded like Squeeze circa 1980, when they were still Kool for Kats and rocking hard. Some of the songs – particularly one that might have been called Midweek Nebula – had a psychedelic edge, including one in tricky 9/4 time.

There were two more acts. Multi-instrumentalist Dave Wechsler is best known for his work with historically-infused chamber-rock band Pinataland, but his own solo work – which he plays and records as Tyranny of Dave – is just as interesting, and historically-inspired. Playing solo on acoustic guitar, with electrifying backing vocals a couple of numbers by oldtimey siren Robin Aigner, he ran through a set of mostly new material. Right about here, the memory gets fuzzy: moderate tempos, warmly melodic tunes, thoughtful lyrics and the occasional bright harmony dominated his hour onstage. The Magpie were next. This group is Dave Benjoya’s latest adventure in world music and they’re as good as they are eclectic, which is a lot. With guitars, accordion, bass and percussion, they swayed and bounced through a bracing mix of latin, gypsy and klezmer tunes, a couple of apprehensively charming Belgian barroom musettes and an English folk song. By the time they wrapped up their set, it was after midnight, but a crowd of A-list Brooklyn musicians stuck around and took it all in. Just a random night in a good Brooklyn bar – not something you typically find where the blight of gentrification has completely taken over, but reason to stay optimistic about music in this town.

May 19, 2011 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bliss Blood and Al Street’s Evanescent: One of the Year’s Best Albums

It’s always cool when a great artist decides to give away free tracks. When those tracks are among that artist’s best ever, it’s time to get busy downloading. Bliss Blood – New York’s reigning goddess of retro – decided to put the debut album by her new duo project Evanescent, with guitarist Al Street, up at reverbnation as a free download. Her Hawaiian swing crew the Moonlighters may be iconic among NYC artists, but they’re only her best-known group: in the last ten years, she’s also sung straight-up swing jazz, creepy cinematic noir songs, and barrelhouse blues (and S&M punk rock, if you count her teenage band the Pain Teens from the early 90s). But this flamenco-tinged unit with just ukulele, acoustic guitar, Blood’s lush, velvet vocals and a ton of reverb that amps up the lurid factor, may be her best yet. The joke here is that this music is actually the furthest thing from evanescent – it lingers and haunts. Blood has never sung better – the Moonlighters’ harmonies range from sensual to chirpy, but here Blood runs deep and dark with an unexpected gravitas and also a sultry allure that beats anything the Moonlighters have done – and they’re a great band.

The first track, Swallow the Dice, sets the stage, lowlit in red: it’s a menacing flamenco waltz, a defiantly metaphorical tribute to beating the system. Likewise, the steadily pulsing Liplock mines a series of double entendres, some of them ironic: play your cards too close to the vest and risk losing everything. Bulletproof is absolutely gorgeous, seductively bittersweet, all too aware of how invulnerability can be a double-edged sword:

Impervious to pain
I dream undaunted
Until I’m wanted and flaunted again
Bad bargain, maybe
I made it, unflinching
I keep it, bewitching
And blindly I see
It’s a barrier around me
Makes me bulletproof
Nothing can touch me
No one but you

The strongest track, lyrically at least, is Blackwater, a blistering broadside originally done by Blood’s “crime jazz” band Nightcall during the waning days of the Bush regime when mercenaries in Iraq were slaughering civilians left and right. Here it’s reinvented with a sarcastic rockabilly shuffle rhythm as Blood rails against the consciousless cynicism of the soldiers of fortune who think nothing of “blood spilled on the sand.” The sultriest track is The Palace of the Wind, its Dr. Zhivago ambience lush and pensive over Street’s agile broken chords. With just ukulele, bells and vocals for most of it, Butterfly Collector wouldn’t be out of place in an early 60s Henry Mancini soundtrack. There’s also the torchy, Freudian Legend of a Crime; the brisk, galloping Ella Es el Matador, the give-and-take of a hookup explained as a bullfight; the echoey, pillowy, sad guitar-and-vocalese instrumental Firefly, and the sly, reggae-tinged come-on Your Mayhem. One of the best albums of the year, for free. Evanescent play DBA at 113 N 7th St. (Berry/Wythe) in Williamsburg on 4/16; 4/22 they’re at Cin-M-Art Space, 43 Murray Street, (W. Broadway & Church).

April 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/24/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #677:

Les Chauds Lapins – Parlez-Moi D’amour

One of the alltime great boudoir albums, and you don’t have to speak French to appreciate it (although that helps). This is the irresistibly charming 2007 debut by a group that began as a side project of two Americans, Roulette Sisters guitarist/chanteuse Meg Reichardt and former Ordinaires bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Kurt Hoffman. In the passing years, the band took on a life of its own, with a great new album Amourettes just out and a cd release show tomorrow at 10 at the 92YTribeca for all you New Yorkers. At the time they released this, Les Chauds Lapins (French slang for “hot to trot”) specialized in mining the witty wordplay and lushly jazzy arrangments of now-obscure French pop hits from the 1930s and 40s (the band has since broadened their palate a bit). This one’s got the coy Il M’a Vue Nue (He Saw Me Naked), the unselfconsciously romantic J’ai Dansé Avec L’Amour (I Danced with Love); the surreal Swing Troubadour; the sad shipwreck lament La Barque D’Yves (Yves’ Boat), the dreamy title track (whose original version was included in the soundtrack to the film Casablanca) and the not-quite-so-dreamy Parlez-Moi D’autre Chose (Let’s Talk About Something Else) among the thirteen sweepingly nocturnal tunes here. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available (also on vinyl!) from the band’s site.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #697:

The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

Hope it’s ok with you if we stick with the oldtime swing for a couple days in a row (we’ll be back with the rock on Saturday). For the better part of 15 years, the Asylum Street Spankers were arguably the funniest band on the planet, a raucous acoustic Americana counterpart to the Dead Kennedys. Fearlessly political, they took on the Bush regime with a ferocious sarcasm matched by few other bands (their best being their last big hit, the Iraq War satire Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV). This 2008 double cd is sort of a greatest-hits collection, recorded in front of a packed house at New York’s Barrow Street Theatre. Frontwoman Christina Marrs and percussionist/singer Wammo banter back and forth over sizzling violin, guitar and mandolin, through a mix of originals and classic blues and gospel tunes. The best of these is My Baby in the CIA, a hilarious, spot-on critique of corporate-sponsored American anti-democracy moves over the years. There’s also the equally spot-on Winning the War on Drugs, an equally funny update on Black Flag’s TV Party, the Medley of Burnt-Out Songs, the amazing, intricately arranged My Favorite Records, and Marrs’ Hawaiian-flavored homage to marijuana, Pakalolo Baby. They also intersperse several skits between songs, the funniest being the Gig from Hell, which every musician will relate to. Mystifyingly hard to find as a torrent; the Spankers (who’ve recently disbanded, reputedly for the last time) still have it at their site.

March 4, 2011 Posted by | blues music, country music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The City Champs Set Up a Vintage Classic

If the City Champs’ new album The Set Up had been recorded in 1965, it would be hailed today as a great rediscovery. This Memphis instrumental band is absolutely period-perfect, right down to Joe Restivo’s vintage guitar tone, the subtly shifting waves of Al Gamble’s Hammond organ and George Sluppick’s funky, shuffling drums. Yet they don’t sound like imitators: they come across like any other good, imaginative, versatile southern soul organ-and-guitar combo from that era and locale. Their previous album The Safecracker was more of a collection of vintage dance grooves; this is an album of nocturnes. Considering the setup of the band (couldn’t resist the pun), much of this sounds a lot like Booker T. & the MGs. The more dramatic, cinematic tracks bring to mind Quincy Jones’ soundtrack to In the Heat of the Night.

The title track opens – it’s a theme that sets the tone for the rest of the album, perfectly evoked by the vintage typography and red-tinged chain-link fence on the cd cover. The second cut, Drippy is the most obviously Booker T-influenced cut with Restivo’s restless, staccato riffage building up to a big crescendo – and then they start over. Ricky’s Rant is arguably the best cut here, a beautifully murky, memorable theme. It’s basically a surf song gone funk, like a Booker T cover of a Lee Hazelwood song. The cinematic Crump St. begins as a slow, dusky summer soul groove lit up by Jim Spake’s tenor sax and then jumps to a jittery shuffle, Sluppick switching up the rhythm artfully. Chinatown evokes neither the film, the song by the Move or any specific Asian locale: instead, it builds suspensefully with intricate, Hendrix-ish guitar over slow burning organ.

With its playful beat and frenetic jazz-tinged guitar, Rigamarole sounds like Rock the Casbah done oldschool Memphis style. Local Jones, the next track, is a gorgeous, hypnotic, slowly swaying Stax/Volt ballad without words. They pick up the pace with Break It Up, a chase scene of sorts with a “batman” crescendo, and follow that with a cover of the Mad Men theme: with Restivo’s quietly menacing hammer-ons, it’s a portrait of a crime family, if only a white-collar one. The album winds up on a towering, anthemic, even majestic note with another original, Comanche, a Lynchian take on a Link Wray-style groove that roars with gospel intensity until a quick, unexpected fade. The City Champs spend a lot of time on the road: as with their previous album, they sound like they’d be a lot of fun live. Watch this space.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/20/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #862:

The Lyres – Those Lyres

Along with their New York counterparts the Fleshtones, Boston rockers the Lyres were the best of the second-wave garage bands of the 80s and 90s. Their live shows could never match the Fleshtones for manic intensity, but several of their studio albums are worth owning, particularly the first two, the self-titled Lyres, from 1983, and its 1986 follow-up Lyres Lyres. This one, released in 1995, combines two surprisingly consistent, first-rate live sets, the first from an undated show probably sometime in the early 90s in Boston and the second in Oslo in 1993. It doesn’t have the repeater-box guitar effect that made their sound so instantly identifiable in their early 80s prime, but frontman/organist/obsessive record collector Jeff “Mono Mann” Connolly is at the top of his game and so is this version of the band. As much as the Lyres were a consummate party band, they could also be surprisingly dark, and this has most of their best songs: two versions of the poignant Baby It’s Me; the snarling, chromatically charged Stay Away; the equally fiery Jezebel and How Do You Know; their iconic cover of the Alarm Clocks’ No Reason to Complain; a careening version of their biggest hit, Help You Ann, and a straight-up 4/4 take of their second-biggest one, She Pays the Rent. Connolly was as erratic a bandleader as a frontman; he went through almost as many band members as James Brown, the one longtime standby being bassist Rick Coraccio, who’s on this album. By the early zeros, the band was basically done; Connolly toured a couple of years ago with a regrouped version of his mid-70s band, the Stooges-inspired DMZ. Maybe because of the title, a search for torrents didn’t turn up anything; the cd is still in print from Norton.

September 20, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revolver’s New Album: Chamber Pop with a Bullet

French trio Revolver’s new album Music for a While sounds like something straight out of the Rive Gauche, 1969 but with smoother, digital production, heavily accented English and period-perfect psychedelic pop songwriting and arrangements. But it’s anything but cheesy. Guitarists Ambroise Willaume and Christophe Musset and cellist Jérémie Arcache play pensive, catchy chamber-pop and folk-pop songs with occasional Beatlisms and blithe harmonies that conceal a frequently dark undercurrent. Don’t confuse this with Belle and Sebastian.

The opening track, Birds in D Minor sets the tone with its brooding folk-pop melody and doomed, crescendoing chorus with Velvets strings: “Birds in my mind, guns to your head, that is how I want to play.” The swaying kiss-off anthem Leave Me Alone maintains the tone, followed by the familiar minor-key ba-ba-ba pop of Balulalow, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Bedsit Poets catalog. Back to You is McCartneyesque with its tricky rhythm, its theme shifting agilely from guitar to piano. The blistering garage rock swing of the simply titled Untitled 1 evokes the great French-American art-rockers Melomane.

Do You Have a Gun is Jimmy Webb meets Donovan meets Jarvis Cocker, a wryly deadpan, mellotron-infused account of a pickup scenario gone down the chute. The carefree, country-tinged Luke Mike and John ups the satirical ante, a scathing travelogue whose crew of spoiled brats on the road hope to find “the dharma way of life.” A Song She Wrote shuffles stiffly on a faux-New Order indie beat until a very funny interlude; Get Around Town is a jaunty, biting minor-key garage rock number, possibly alluding to police brutality. The album winds up with the morosely bopping piano pop of Untitled 2 and the regret-tinged, cynically swinging It’s All Right. This one’s for both fans of the classics (the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle) and the obscure (Damian Quinones).

September 16, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/26/10

OK, we’re a little behind with this but we have not been idle: new NYC concert calendar coming August 1, the 1000 best albums of all time, not to mention 72 albums and two concerts to review. At least. In the meantime here’s this week’s version of what Billboard should be paying attention to: we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone, sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. Every link here will take you to the song. As always, the #1 song of the week is guaranteed a spot on this year’s best 100 songs list at the end of December.

1. The Larch – Sub-Orbital Getaway

A masterpiece of catchy paisley underground rock dressed up in a skinny tie and striped suit. From the Brooklyn band’s best album, the brand-new Larix Americana.

2. Devi – When It Comes Down

The psychedelic rockers are giving away this live showstopper as a free download. Doesn’t get any more generous than this!

3. People You Know – Glamour in the Hearts of Many

Go Gos soundalike from the fun, quirky Toronto trio.

4. Wormburner – The Interstate

Long, literate highway epic: it’s all about escape. What you’d expect from a good band from New Jersey (they tore up Hipster Demolition Night this month).

5. The Fumes – Cuddle Up the Devil

Not the Queens ska-rock crew but an Australian band very good at hypnotic pounding Mississippi hill country blues a la RL Burnside or Will Scott. They’re at the Rockwood 8/26-27

6. The Alpha Rays – Guide to Androids

Ziggy-era Bowie epic warped into an early 80s artpop vein from these lyrical London rockers.

7. Fela Original Cast – Water No Get Enemy

A Fela classic redone brilliantly, from the Broadway show soundtrack – then again, it’s what you’d expect from Antibalas.

8. Iron Maiden – God of Darkness

This is the first Iron Maiden – bluesy British metal from 1969!

9. Darker My Love – Dear Author

Faux psychedelic Beatles – funny in a Dukes of Stratosphear vein. Free download.

10. Megan McCullough Li – Blood in the Water

Solo harp and vocals – creepy!

July 29, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Cat Empire – Cinema

Back in the day they used to call this “good top 40.” Australian sensations the Cat Empire have a very 80s sound, but with values that go back another 20 years. With their anthemic songwriting, catchy chord changes, and high energy, unaffected vocals, they’re huge down under, now in the process of extending their fan base outside the Tropic of Capricorn. Interestingly, their lead instrument is Ollie McGill’s electric piano, incisive and bluesy like Rod Argent during his time with the Zombies. Frontman/percussionist Felix Riebl projects with a hoarse insistence that vividly evokes Peter Gabriel on his first solo albums. Drummer Will Hull-Brown gives the songs a big-room drama while the band’s turntablist Jamshid Khadiwala adds the occasional sample or scratch for a bit of a hip-hop/trip-hop tinge.

The album’s catchy opening track Waiting swings along with Zombies-esque electric piano. Trumpeter Harry Angus brings the hip-hop-inflected Falling up at the end with a big crescendo. The indomitable Feelings Gone sounds like Men at Work if that band had come out in the late 90s: “I think that I’m gonna wake up on your lawn,” announces Riebl, unperturbed. The best song on the album is the slinky, uneasy Only Light, building from a rousing gospel organ intro to a big roaring chorus. The next cut, All Hell pounds along, dark and Beatlesque, with an expansive and absolutely delicious organ solo. 

The Heart Is a Cannibal is the most overtly 80s of all the cuts here. Another standout track, Call Me Home is bouncy, ska-tinged and apprehensive: “Call me home, is there anybody there at all?” Riebl asks. On My Way follows that, reggae-tinged, with a blithe dixieland solo from Angus. Ballads don’t seem to be the band’s strong suit, but that’s not the point of the Cat Empire anyway. They sound like they’d be a lot of fun live (their most recent album, a live recording, went platinum in Australia). The Cat Empire play the Music Hall of Williamsburg on July 31 at 9.

July 1, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment